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key vote Big changes are given the green light at GAA Congress in Bekan


The result of Motion 1, regarding new structures for the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, is shown on a screen during the GAA Congress at NUI Galway

The result of Motion 1, regarding new structures for the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, is shown on a screen during the GAA Congress at NUI Galway

The result of Motion 1, regarding new structures for the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, is shown on a screen during the GAA Congress at NUI Galway

The 'green' football championship proposal has been approved without a dissenting voice at GAA Congress in Bekan, attracting 94.7pc of the vote.

The new structure will be in place for 2023 and will see the provincial championships retain their position in the calendar, albeit in a tighter timeframe, with the top 16 (eight provincial finalists, Tailteann Cup winner from the previous year and the top seven league teams after that) playing for the Sam Maguire Cup in four four-team round robin groups with preliminary All-Ireland quarter-finals (second and third teams in each group playing off). The winners of those games then play the group winners in an All-Ireland quarter final. The same format will be rolled out for the 16 Tailteann Cup participants who don't meet the qualifying criteria for Sam Maguire.

The upshot will be a 65pc increase in championship games from the 2017 format, prior to the All-Ireland quarter-final 'super eights,' jumping from 60 in the old format to 99 in 2023.

GPA chief executive Tom Parsons commended the move as one of "fairness, development and excitement" and praised the GAA leadership for the swift turnaround from last year's Special Congress where 'proposal B' got 50.7pc of the vote, falling short of the 60pc majority required.

But the mood for change was clear. Former GAA president Sean Kelly, who initially floated the framework for this proposal in 2012, welcomed its arrival now.

Jack Devanney, the Down GAA chairman, said that because of the similar nature of formats for Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cup, it's possible to play a Tailteann Cup final on All-Ireland final day and should be considered.

"Half of the counties here have played no part on All-Ireland final day in the last 60 years. This opens them to being participants on the biggest day in Irish sport," he said.

Conor O'Donoghue, a member of the original Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force that conceived proposal B and who was speaking in his capacity as chairman of GAA's fixture analysts committee, welcomed the change now but warned about the consequences of future clashes with third level competition early in the year.

"There are issues around third level and that's a serious matter we are going to have to deal with. There is an enormous amount of consequence to the early games of the year and much less consequence in some of the later games. January and February are very serious for counties and players."

A proposal to create a new U-19 inter-county competition, replacing the current U-20, with minor (U-17) becoming developmental in nature, has failed narrowly to reach the 60pc required.

A robust debate saw proposers argue that retaining U-17 as a competitive competition in its current format was applying too much pressure on young players.

Many of those who spoke against the motion, among them Limerick, Kildare, Galway and Fermanagh asked for a deferral and better consultation about what a future U-17 would look like.

But the vote narrowly lost, virtually guaranteeing that it will be revisited in 12 months time.

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Armagh's Paul Duggan had proposed the motion asking if it is "morally correct to view our youth as mini adults."

"Under the glare of cameras and the spotlight of social media, our U-17s are defined as children yet we expect them to withstand the pressures of winning and losing," he said.

The chairman of the GAA's coaching and games development committee and former Galway footballer John Tobin spoke of "adult demands, adult expectations, adult measurements and adult competencies and imposing them on 16-year-old teenagers.

"Form follows function and the function of that competition is to win an All-Ireland, it's the big prize, beat your neighbours, win the provincial championship, win the All-Ireland," said Tobin, wondering if that was the best environment for 16 and 17-year olds to be in.

Former GAA president Nickey Brennan said Covid had not allowed elements of the Talent Academy report, which advocated the change initially, to bed in.

"The level of extensive engagement with players and coaches, schools, this wasn't dreamt up, it was dealt with on science and factual data.

"Let's be clear, it's developmental. It exposes more players to the opportunity to play for their county and develop. Labelling them at that stage as winners or losers, is a disservice. It's child abuse to be honest about it."

But the lack of clarity was enough to persuade over 40pc to oppose it, putting it back in the mix for 2023.

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